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Discussion-activity:
Teen brains are different, part one

December 6, 2000
Web posted at: 12:57 PM EST (1757 GMT)

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Identify periods of brain growth.
  • Describe the function of the amygdala.
  • Argue the impact that biology and environment have on behavior.
Questions

1. What have scientists recently discovered about the teen brain? How did some of the teens in the CNN NEWSROOM video respond to this news? Why does this information provoke strong reactions from some teens?

2. Until now, what did scientists believe was the most important time for brain development? How many major periods of brain growth do they believe exist now? Between what ages does the first period of growth take place? Where in the brain does this "virtual forest fire of growth" occur? What kinds of things do the frontal lobes control? What kind of brain growth spurt takes place between the ages of 7 and 13? What skills are affected during this growth spurt?

3. When does the rapid growth of the brain come to an end? How does the brain begin to "fine-tune" itself during this phase? What kinds of skills can become more of a challenge during this period? To what part of the brain can "teen angst" be traced? Why? How can parents play a role in their teen's maturation during these critical years?

4. Direct groups of students to research the anatomy of the brain and create diagrams or other visual aids to help explain it. Have each group present its work. Post groups' efforts around the classroom and use them as references as the class continues to explore the human brain.

5. Inform your students that the amygdala is an almond-shaped area of the brain that receives signals of danger and begins to set off a series of reactions designed for "fight or flight." Have students work in groups to research the amygdala and its fight-or-flight response system and share their findings in class. Point out that the amygdala has been associated with phobias and some emotional reactions. How might these aspects of human behavior be explained by the function and activity of the amygdala? Discuss.

In this segment, we learn that many aspects of human adolescence may be rooted in the teen brain. As a class, brainstorm a list of general emotional and mental characteristics of the teen years, such as sleepiness, rebelliousness or lack of self-control. Write these characteristics on the board. Divide the class into small groups. Challenge each group to choose one characteristic and determine to what extent, if any, that characteristic can be tied to the brain. If the characteristic can be linked to the teen brain, have the group examine the biology involved (for example, what part of the brain houses this emotion or condition and how the teen brain may be conducive to it.) Have each group present its information to the class. Next, discuss environmental/external factors which might play a role in teen behavior and characteristics. Do students think the teen mind is more a product of biology or society? Why?



RELATED SITES:
Whole brain atlas
Brain model tutorial
Hijacking of the amygdala and emotional reaction
Fear and the amygdala

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